iMCB+ is a three-pillar initiative to advocate for underrepresented first-year graduate students entering the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at UC Berkeley. The three pillars include 1) a seminar series, 2) faculty mentors, and 3) student luncheons throughout the semester. The program fosters open and honest discussions around student pressures -- both personal (finances, family, and peers) and institutional (implicit bias, stereotype threat, etc.). We strive to create a sense of belonging and understanding among our students and faculty.
Over the last 10 years, Berkeley’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) has often been recognized as the top graduate program of its kind. In the 2018 USNews rankings, Berkeley is tied as #1 with MIT and Stanford in the biological sciences. The department attracts exceptional talent and is known for producing leaders in industry and academia. However, like many universities across the country, Berkeley has struggled to recruit and retain talented scientists from diverse backgrounds.
The problem is not a “pipeline issue” as some might claim. Many programs across the country have shown remarkable success at recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority (URM) students who remain enthusiastic about science following their PhD experience. Berkeley needs to cultivate talent and demonstrate that pursuing academia is a promising, inclusive career choice for them.
Since 2009, out of a total of ~400 PhD students, MCB has only successfully recruited 6 African-American women. Of those 6 students, fewer than half have pursued postdocs, and even fewer have pursued careers in academia. These persistently low numbers reinforce a need to improve our recruitment efforts and create a social climate where everyone in the program feels welcomed, supported and motivated to pursue a career in academia. To improve the experiences of our incoming students from underrepresented backgrounds and their allies, we created inclusiveMCB (iMCB).